Lawsuits filed for Indiana stage collapse victims

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Two of what are expected to be many lawsuits were filed Friday on behalf of people injured when wind toppled a stage at the Indiana State Fair, sending metal scaffolding flying into fans waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform.

As IBJ reported Aug. 18, Indiana caps the state's liability in accidents at $700,000 per person and $5 million total per event, amounts that personal-injury lawyers say are too low in a situation involving so many victims. Six people have died from their injuries, including one Friday, and roughly four dozen more were hurt, many seriously.

Legal experts said that could result in several other entities aside from the state fair becoming targets of negligence lawsuits, including the designer and builder of the stage and the concert promoter.

"I think there will probably be a large number of defendants listed, just because there's a limited pot of money," said attorney Tom Schultz, a former president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana.

The Valparaiso law firm of Kenneth J. Allen & Associates filed two suits Friday in LaPorte Circuit Court on behalf 42-year-old homemaker Tammy Vandam, who was one of six people killed, and 49-year-old Beth Urschel, who was among the dozens injured. Both women were from Wanatah. Attorney Kenneth J. Allen said the women were life partners.

Spokesman Bryan Corbin said the Indiana attorney general's office would review the suit and file a response. He also said the state had not received any tort claims related to the accident. The other defendants didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment Friday.

The suits include requests for a court order protecting the wreckage so the firm's investigators can examine it.

Fair Commission member Ted McKinney said at a news conference that victims' families and others would have access to the wreckage. One attorney sent a letter to Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday, asking him to issue an executive order keeping the stage and other materials from being removed so victims' families wouldn't have to go to court to preserve it.

"Whoever needs and wants access to the site, has that access to the site," McKinney said Friday.

Fair officials have hired New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc. to investigate the accident. The state also hired Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management firm based in Washington to conduct a "comprehensive, independent analysis of the state fair's preparedness and response" to the collapse.

Ted McKinney promised Friday that the process would be transparent.

But Indianapolis lawyer Mark Ladendorf, who expects to represent at least two victims' families, said most firms will launch their own investigations.

"We're going to have to get answers for our clients," he said. "We succinctly can't rely on what the government is going to tell us and what someone hired by the government will tell us."

It remains unclear whether anyone had inspected the stage that toppled, or whether anyone was supposed to do so.

More lawsuits are expected. Dan Chamberlain, a partner at the Indianapolis personal-injury firm of Doehrman Chamberlain, told IBJ that his firm could sue on behalf of one victim within the next week.

"You've got 50 people injured, five who have been killed, and you've got $5 million in coverage," Chamberlain said. "It's nowhere close to fairly and adequately compensating the families."

Under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, lawyers must notify the state they intend to sue within 270 days of the accident.

State fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the fair is self-insured against such lawsuits under the Indiana State Tort Claims Act.


  • Like money is going to make it all better.....really?
    I was wondering how long it would take for the lawsuits to come out. This country has
    become sue happy.

    So, suing for all this money is going to make everything ok now? When's it going to stop? When is enough enough?
    How is a law suit going to help someone that supposedly is experiencing trauma?

    The weather warnings were issued far enough in advance....If anything, there should be an investigation to review what happened and try to correct whatever deficiency there may have been involving the structure that could have contributed to this, so it doesn't happen again; without the involvement of any law suits.

  • Smart phones anyone?
    With a mojority of folks having smart phones, I would have thought people would have pulled up the weather to see the green/yellow/red coming and decide to seek shelter.
  • JJ's Insensitivity
    JJ -

    You will probably never apologize for the level of insensitivity displayed by your message so I will do so on your behalf.

    The incident itself is unfortunate. The loss of life is trajic. But there are good and valid reasons why there should be compensation to the victims. Several lost a main, if not the sole, breadwinner in their family. Without some system of compensation to at least mitigate their financial loss, you would be compounding the problem of the loss of a parent by also allowing the loss of the family home and everything else it takes money to buy.

    We all share some of the fault whenever we make a choice. But no one should expect to die when they stand out in the rain.

  • State Fair Tragedy
    People expected the authorities to tell them to take shelter, as should have happened. Not notifiying the crowd of imminent danger led people to think there wasn't any danger. What don't you get about the responsibility of management to inform the public of imminent damger?
  • lawsuits? really?
    This is crazy. Filing lawsuits because too many did not follow the common sense of "come in out of the rain"? Did we not learn to shelter ourselves from severe weather while we were in school? Let's sue the schools too while we are at it since it is obvious we did not learn weather safety from them. To say "having a ticket for an OUTDOOR EVENT insures my safety for that venue" shows lack of intelligence. I have been to many venues and NOWHERE on the ticket does it say I am insured by the site, promoter, organizer, entertainer, advertiser, or any and all other organizations that are employed that provide the entertainment and/or equipment reserved on that particular ticket stub. "We could not get out/away"..yeah right...If it was me, I would have either not gone, or plowed my way out...if I want out of a crowd, I get out of a crowd..ANY person can do this without getting trampled, it's NOT hard..just move your legs in the direction you wish to go and say "excuse me I have to go use the restroom (or any other excuse that people let you pass)"..do we not have minds of our own to make decisions for OUR OWN safety? to blame the fairgrounds for the responsibility of this decision shows laziness plain and simple. when people sue using stupid lawsuits as this, I try to avoid going to those venues as often as I used to because I REFUSE to pay higher prices (whenever possible)that reflect STUPID lawsuits that force prices to go higher...I did NOT say I avoid those places, I just do not go as OFTEN!! Yes those folks' lost lives and injuries are tragic. THEY WERE 100% PREVENTABLE JUST BY USING THE COMMON SENSE TO SHELTER YOURSELVES FROM INCOMING BAD WEATHER!!! Severe weather was forecasted at least 3 - 4 DAYS before this tragedy. NO ONE can predict where wind gusts or tornados touch down or where earthquakes may strike, but preparedness will support the saying "it is better to have been safe and nothing serious/critical happen than to have disregarded precautions and lost everything you have, including your life". Some say, "There was no time, no advance warning" ...the severe weather had been forecasted days in advance, how much more warning do you need? the excuses go on and on and every one of them has no merit. the bottom line is this: Common sense was disregarded. Weather warnings days ago were disregarded. Even those working should have known better. Those that work with lighting, electricity, and sound SHOULD have known better, since all those areas of expertise require a substantial amount of electricity. If these lawsuits go on, all it is going to do is fill the pockets of the lawyers. No amount of money is going to restore a life or heal an injury back to it's original state. All the lawsuits do is show vengeance and revenge. The important points and values are lost.

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